Dog Food Logic–A Great New Guide to Dog Foods for Dog Owners

I was recently asked to review a new book for dog owners called Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices by Linda Case. I was very impressed, and I encourage anyone interested in a rational, science-based approach to feeding our pet dogs to read this one. Here is the original review I provided for the book.

Dog Food Logic is an indispensable book for any pet owner who wants to make thoughtful, informed decisions about what to feed his or her canine companions. The dog food industry is a bewildering, ever-changing landscape of companies and brands, and dog owners are inundated with marketing masquerading as science, with rigid advice from self-declared experts, and with fads every bit as intense and short-lived as those in the human weight loss business. Dog Food Logic cuts through the noise and chaos and provides pet owners with a rational, science-based approach to evaluating their pets’ dietary needs and their feeding choices.

Rather than simply telling dog owners what food to buy, Dog Food Logic provides a concise and comprehensible guide to the three main subjects we must understand in order to make sound feeding choices: the science of canine nutrition, the nature of the dog food industry, and the pitfalls in our own ways of thinking that make us susceptible to marketing hype and irrational decisions. Rather than trying to tell us what to feed, Ms. Case empowers dog owners to make choices consistent with the needs of our individual pets and our own values.

In Dog Food Logic, the author displays a deep understanding of not only the science of nutrition but of the human-animal bond. Feeding our pets is more than providing them with essential nutrients. It is an expression of love and one of the most enjoyable shared experiences between pet and owner. Ms. Case understands that the emotional nature of feeding our animal companions must be appreciated and nurtured, but that it can also make us vulnerable to manipulation. Advertising and advice about what to feed our pets often plays on our anxieties about their health and happiness and our desire to do everything possible to ensure a long and healthy life for our dogs. Ms. Case is able to help us see through such manipulative marketing and make sound feeding decisions based on science while still respecting the role of feeding in the deep bond between owners and our pets.

As a veterinarian, a scientist, and a dog owner, I have waited a long time for a book like Dog Food Logic, one which I can enthusiastically recommend to my clients and colleagues. After reading Dog Food Logic, you will of course have a deeper understanding of canine nutrition, the pet food industry, and how to make good choices about feeding your pet. But you will also have a greater understanding of yourself as a pet owner and a consumer. Understanding how we make choices, and how those choices can be influenced by the quirks of our own thought processes and by the manipulative power of marketing, enables us to make better decisions about all aspects of our pets’ care. If we apply the same critical thinking and evidence-based approach to behavior and training, veterinary care, and all the other decisions we make as pet owners, we will better caretakers with happier, healthier pets.

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12 Responses to Dog Food Logic–A Great New Guide to Dog Foods for Dog Owners

  1. Beccy Higman says:

    Thanks, on wishlist.

  2. Anthro says:

    What about “Feed Your Pet Right”? I have waited patiently for you to review it as you mentioned having obtained a copy some time ago.

  3. Pingback: What Should I Feed My Dog? | jsmelo

  4. Melissa says:

    Hi, I found this website while doing online searches for information about turmeric before possibly writing an article about it; the content of this blog is distressing to say the least. I’ve been skimming as many articles as possible before posting so hopefully I haven’t missed something.

    I’ve considered myself to rather skeptical, and as of recent I’ve gotten in disagreements with people about their immediate yet unsubstantiated rejection of feeding commercial to iguanas for supplementary nutrition and a person claiming that eating peppers with butter on toast will cure all forms of cancer. I’ve come to refer to these people as ‘naturalists’, as they have an almost theological commitment to the belief that natural substances are always best or that nature provides all cures to every illness. So in other words, I like your methods and that’s why I’m inclined to follow your words even though it saddens me that apparently there’s not much other than commercial food that you approve of. I feel like I’m starting at square one.

    This blog is filled with statements that many treatments that I assumed were well-researched aren’t so, including antioxidants, glucosamine, and cereal-free whole foods diets. While being far from the aforementioned ‘naturalist’, I did believe that animals would benefit from eating unprocessed food as they have evolved to, under the logic that animals are genetically selected to having reproductive success, and that generally correlates with health. All of my pets receive a mix of commercial and raw.

    While it is not hard to accept that it is possible that we could design a food that is superior to evolution’s design, there are still a few things I haven’t found addressed thus far. There is an enormous enrichment factor that raw diets, particularly bones, have for at least my dog. It slows down eating, which presumably has benefits, encourages calorie burning (via exercise from excessive chewing), but most importantly it cleans my dog’s teeth unlike anything else I’ve tried, including countless commercial dental products, manual scaling and brushing, and nylabone-type products. I presume that this is important (unless there’s no evidence?)

    I do have to mention that she did chip a tooth (I think due to a bone that was too hard and thick), so of course, the risks are real, but hopefully aside from that, her much cleaner teeth and quality of life eating these foods makes it worthwhile. With eating only pellets, sometimes she wouldn’t eat. I can fully identify with why an animal would not want to only eat pellets for 90% of the diet. After the switch to partial raw along with the commercial, she eats not only the raw vigorously, but the pellets too. I think variety is important not just physically, but mentally.

    Since she’s around 13 years old, avoiding anesthesia for a cleaning is important to me. So while the raw has small risks, would improved-dental health and the fact that my dog LOVES the diet be a benefit to consider?

    As for cats (or in my case, a spotted genet), too much commercial dry food (both my dog and genet get Orijen/Acana brands) seems to result in occasional diarrhea. Feeding him raw ground raw quail, mouse, and chicken, along with commercial seems to remedy this. It’s hard for me to see that animals designed for whole prey will experience no problems with dry pellets.
    So I guess I have a few questions, forgive if they’ve been addressed before or if this is time-consuming:

    -You’ve stated that wolves and dogs are different, but you’ve also stated that wolves live longer on commercial dog food. Doesn’t this mean that dogs in fact, should be fed like wolves? Is there a study that shows that captive wolves live longer on commercial vs. a raw mixture?

    – The risks of raw are substantiated here with the deaths of a few pets (the two cat study). Should I presume no accidental deaths related to commercial food have occurred?

    -Do you find it likely that commercial diets are superior to natural diets for exotic/non-domesticated animals? Should genets, tigers, ect. be fed pellets?

    -If most homemade diets are nutritionally inadequate, has it been your experience (or is there a study that shows) that animals on this diet are deficient in a nutrients, or are unhealthy/have reduced longevity? Why does obvious bacterial contaminates on all raw food result in such little illness/death?

    -Could feeding commercial along with raw compensate for missing nutrition?

    Thank you for your time.

  5. skeptvet says:

    Melissa,

    Thanks for the comment, I’ll try to address some of the issues you raise.

    “There is an enormous enrichment factor that raw diets, particularly bones, have for at least my dog.”

    No question chewing things is enjoyable for dogs. I do see tooth fractures pretty commonly from chewing bones, and the dental specialists recommend against it, so for what it’s worth I prefer to give my dogs softer things to chew. For some reason, rawhide has a bad rap, but I can only think of one case ever where it caused any problem (a big square got stuck in the back of a dog’s throat), so it’s my first choice. I basically avoid anything that’s too hard to flex with your hands, so that includes hooves (which I used to give until one of my dogs cracked a tooth on one), antlers, etc. I think you can get the enrichment value with less risk from things other than bones.

    “It slows down eating, which presumably has benefits, encourages calorie burning (via exercise from excessive chewing)”

    No idea if it slows eating down, but I can guarantee that the calories burned by chewing have no impact on overall calorie balance or weight management. There is good research showing that increasing one’s calories burned by any meaningful amount requires enormous amounts of intense exercise.. In humans, increasing exercise enough to burn 1 pound of fat in a week requires 90 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise 7 days a week! So while chewing is enjoyable for dogs, it does not increase calories burned in any real way.

    “but most importantly it cleans my dog’s teeth unlike anything else I’ve tried”

    This is a common claim for raw diets, but there is not yet any research to show it is true. I feed commercial dry and brush my dogs’ teeth, and they have great dental health, so there are certainly other ways to prevent dental disease. If research does eventually show that raw diets do contribute to better dental health, that would be a legitimate argument for them, but unfortunately subjective impressions just don’t guide us well. And I know of many patients of mine who eat raw and have terrible dental disease, so it’s certainly not a perfect method even if it does help in some cases. Again, hypothetical benefit but I can point to as many examples where it hasn’t worked as where it has, so I’m not yet convinced.

    “you’ve also stated that wolves live longer on commercial dog food. Doesn’t this mean that dogs in fact, should be fed like wolves? Is there a study that shows that captive wolves live longer on commercial vs. a raw mixture?”

    There is some research suggesting that captive wolves live longer in captivity and when fed commercial diets rather than exclusively carcasses, though there are many factors at play so this is not definitive evidence that commercial diets are better for wolves (see studies listed below 7-12). My point here was that the argument raw diets are healthy because they are what wild carnivores eat fails on multiple levels. One is simply that there are important anatomic, physiologic, and genetic differences between wolves and dogs associated with intensive selection by artificial breeding as well as long-term association with humans, so it’s comparing apples and oranges. Another is that it is not clear that the “natural” diet is truly healthier even for wolves. It may be what they eat in the wild because they have evolved to use what is available to them, but they might very well be healthier and live longer if they didn’t have to eat only what they can catch for themselves in the wild. “Natural” is not the same as “Healthy” or “Optimal.”

    “The risks of raw are substantiated here with the deaths of a few pets (the two cat study). Should I presume no accidental deaths related to commercial food have occurred?”

    Sure, nothing is risk free. There have undoubtedly been injuries and deaths associated with commercial diets. This is not because they are intrinsically unsafe but because nothing is without risk and accidental or purposeful contamination with infectious organisms or toxins will happen in any food production system. The meat many use to make a raw diet for their pets is inspected and regulated for human consumption, yet people get sick and die rarely due to failures in this system as well. That will always happen no matter what source of food is used because human beings are imperfect.

    The question with regard to raw diets is do their benefits outweigh their risks, and are their risks greater or less than those of commercial diets. At this point, none of the benefits have been proven through research, whereas the benefits of nutritionally appropriate commercial foods have. And the risks exist, but they haven’t been quantitatively evaluated, so we can’t compare them directly with other kinds of diets. Obviously, commercial kibble is fed to MANY more dogs than raw diets, and they are clearly safe for the vast majority. Whether it will actually turn out that raw diets are safer is unknown, but this hasn’t proven true for humans, and there isn’t yet any compelling reason to believe it will be true for our pets.

    “Do you find it likely that commercial diets are superior to natural diets for exotic/non-domesticated animals? Should genets, tigers, ect. be fed pellets?”

    I don’t know. It isn’t a question of what seems likely, since that’s just opinion. It would be a question that could be answered by looking at the evidence, if it exists, and at this point I haven’t done that for species other than pets and wolves.

    “If most homemade diets are nutritionally inadequate, has it been your experience (or is there a study that shows) that animals on this diet are deficient in a nutrients, or are unhealthy/have reduced longevity? Why does obvious bacterial contaminates on all raw food result in such little illness/death?”

    There are no long-term studies on nutritionally inadequate diets. How would that be done, ethically or practically? Should we knowingly feed inappropriate diets and wait until the dogs we feed them to get sick? That isn’t something anyone wants to do. However, the very definition of “nutritionally inadequate” is based on historical evidence showing that insufficient nutrients do cause disease, so such a study isn’t really necessary. We used to feed diets with too little taurine to cats, and they got sick. We changed the diets and now they don’t get that illness. Additional study wouldn’t be needed or appropriate to make the claim that taurine deficient diets shouldn’t be fed. The exact same logic applies to all other nutrients for which we know what “inadequate” levels are. So by definition, if a diet is inadequate nutritionally, it is inappropriate to feed that diet because it will eventually cause harm.

    As for the rate of harm from bacterial levels in raw meat, it isn’t clear that it doesn’t result in meaningful frequency of harm, since no one is studying or monitoring that issue. Sure, pets aren’t dropping dead left and right, so we can at least say that is rare (as it is with commercial dry diets). But how many dogs get diarrhea or occasionally vomiting or have subtle long-term health problems that go undiagnosed or unreported? Who knows. There is simply no system in place to monitor these things, and people who claim they see all kinds of harm from kibble (for which their is no controlled evidence) will also claim they see no harm ever from raw diets (for which there is no controlled evidence), so there is a significant risk of bias in uncontrolled haphazard individual observations. So again, the issue is how does the safety of raw diets compare with commercial kibble, and the answer is no one knows because all we have is opinion, not research.

    “-Could feeding commercial along with raw compensate for missing nutrition?”

    Maybe, Again, no studies, and it would depend. Commercial diets are meant to be fed at maintenance calorie levels and so are composed to be nutritionally adequate at those levels. They are supplemented with essential nutrients, but they aren’t intended for use as supplements. And without a clear analysis of the nutrient content of a particular raw diet recipe, how would we know what nutrients needed to be supplemented in what amounts. I suspect a mixture is likely to be less risky than a pure homemade diet (unless that diet has been properly formulated by a nutritionist, in which mixing kibble would only mess things up). But again, this is only worth doing if there is some health advantage over feeding a regular commercial diet, and no one has shown that to be true yet.

    Hope this helps.

    7.Maia OB, Gouveia AM. Birth and mortality of maned wolves Chrysocyon brachyurus in captivity. Brazilian Journal of Biology 2002; 62(1):25-32.
    8.Smith DW, Stahler DR, Albers E, Metz M, Williamson L, et al. Yellowstone Wolf Project: Annual Report, 2008. 2009. National Park Service, Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, YCR-2009-03.
    9.Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Longevity records; Lifespans of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Accessed 05/07/2010 at http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords/0203.htm
    10.Waddell W. Nutrition. In: Red Wolf Husbandry Manual Guidelines for Captive Management. Red Wolf SSP Management Group American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 1998.
    11.Newton K. Nutrition. In: Mexican Wolf Husbandry Manual. Mexican Wolf SSP Management Group. American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 1995.
    12.Allen ME. Maned wolf nutritional management. In: Husbandry Manual for the Maned Wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus. N.B. Fletchall, M. Rodden and S. Taylor, Eds. American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 1995.

  6. Catherine says:

    ” For some reason, rawhide has a bad rap, but I can only think of one case ever where it caused any problem (a big square got stuck in the back of a dog’s throat), so it’s my first choice.”

    I would love to give my dog a nice rawhide bone to chew but, like you said, it got a bad rap and now I’m afraid to give it to him. I’ve had other dogs in the past that chewed and consumed rawhide with no problems. This was before rawhide became evil.

    If I were to get brave and give my 65 pound rough collie a rawhide bone, which type would you recommend as the safest? The square chips, or the knotted bones, or the long rolls? Definitely it would be made in the USA.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Skeptvet

  7. skeptvet says:

    Generally, I recommend the largest piece you can get your dog to chew, so that it is more difficult to pull off large pieces and try to swallow them whole. Once it gets softened and gross, you can replace it.

  8. Melissa S says:

    Thanks a lot for the reply, which I didn’t see because I thought I’d get some kind of notification. This blog has caused me to reverse my opinion on raw feeding and what I promote on my own blog. It has also very much depressed me because all of the feel good feelings I got from buying various supplements (reseveratol, turmeric, ect.) has vanished and now all I now is empty sugar pills. But I can’t bear all the faith and religious devotion that people have to their nutritional ‘beliefs’ so this blog beats them, even though I don’t want to believe this, I’ll admit.
    I still feed an occasional mix of farm-raised meat with kibble from farm-raised meat (Orijen) but now I cook the meat, especially since my dog is elderly. I feed my genet a mix too (mouse meat) but mostly kibble. I’m still glad to support the pet food companies that have better farming practices.
    My dog could spend up to 30 minutes chewing with the right kind of bone with attached muscle, and it is one of the only things that will deter her from annoying us when we’re eating. I worry that the soft chews, which she destroys much quicker, are higher in calories, but I’m not sure.

  9. Christian Mrosko says:

    I think it would be better to give dogs dehydrated livestock trachea, preferably home made from a local source.

    I won’t give my dog raw hide chews. I’ve read enough tragic experiences people have had in doing so.

    See some of the posts in the follow up comments here; http://thebark.com/content/dangers-rawhide-dog-chew-toys?page=2

  10. skeptvet says:

    Unfortunately, such anecdotes can be effective in frightening people without actually giving us accurate insight into risks and benefits. I could as easily point out that in 15 years in a busy veterinary practice with more than 20 doctors and thousands of patients, I have only seen one medical problem due to a rawhide. This was a dog brought in with a large chew stuck in the back of his mouth. It was easily removed with a little sedation and no harm was done. Pretty hard to argue these present a serious risk if so many thousands of pets in our area, including my own, eat them regularly with no ill effects. Neither set of experiences is, of course, reliable controlled data, which is the problem with dueling anecdotes. However, we should be wary of making decisions and firm rules based on such unreliable evidence.

  11. Bryan says:

    I read this book because of your post and loved it. Thanks! Any other recommendations on books for further reading? I’ve been looking at a few others but it is hard to get past all of the pseudoscience options.

    Also, is there any research or studies recently completed or currently in progress that you are paying attention to or are particularly excited about?

    Thanks for all of the work that you do!

  12. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for the support. This is probably more than you want, but here are some suggestions. I especially recommend Don’t Believe Everything You Think by Tomas Kida:

    Critical Thinking and Philosophy of Science
    Print Resources
    Burton, R. (2008). On Being Certain: Believing You’re Right Even When You’re Not. New York: St. Martin’s Press
    Carroll, RT. (2000) Becoming a Critical Thinker – A Guide for the New Millennium. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
    Gilovich, T. (1993). How We Know What Isn’t’ So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: The Free Press.
    Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
    Kida, T. (2006). Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking. New York: Prometheus Books.
    McKenzie, BA. Veterinary clinical decision-making: cognitive biases, external constraints, and strategies for improvement. Journal Amer Vet Med Assoc. 2014;244(3):271-276.
    Park, RL. (2001) Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Boston: Oxford University Press.
    Sagan, C. (1995). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House.
    Shermer, M. (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: Holt, Holt & Company.
    Tavris C. Aronson, E. (2008) Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me):Why we Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. Boston: Mariner Books.
    Burch, D. (2009). Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine’s Beautiful Idea and our Difficulty Swallowing It. London: Chatto & Windus

    Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine
    Print Resources
    Cockroft, P. Holmes, M. (2003). Handbook of Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine. Oxford: Blackwell.
    Ramey DW. (Ed.). Evidence-based veterinary medicine. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice. 2007 Aug;23(2).
    Schmidt, PL. (Ed.). Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 2007 May: 37(3).
    Smith RD. Veterinary clinical epidemiology. 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis, 2006. 280 pgs. ISBN: 0849315662.

    Alternative Medicine
    Print Resources
    Barker Bausell, R. (2007). Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Boston: Oxford University Press.
    Ernst, E. Singh, S. (2008). Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
    Ernst, E. Pittler, MH. Wider, B. (Eds.) (2006). The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
    McKenzie, BA. Is complementary and alternative medicine compatible with evidence-based medicine? J Amer Vet Med Assoc. 2012;241(4):421-6.
    Offit, P. (2013) Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. New York: Harper Collins.
    Ramey, DW. Rollin, BE. (2004). Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Considered. Ames: Iowa State Press.
    Sampson, W. Vaughn, L. (Eds.) (2000). Science Meets Alternative Medicine: What the Evidence Says about Unconventional Treatments. New York: Prometheus Books.

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